This was my favorite web find ever and one of those posts that I really enjoyed doing. It was originally posted on The Eigth of January 2009.
Surfing the web I found a real gold nugget, the short memoir of a teacher who taught at my Comprehensive (High) school at the same time I was there. Below are some extracts from her writings. I have added some notes of my own, my notes are in italics and green. Some names have been deleted to protect both the innocent and my own identity, although the names of those I regard as guilty remain.
Anne ***** looks back over 29
L. P. Hartley said that the past is
another country; looking back,
Britain in 1979 seems like another
world. The Tory government led by
Mrs Thatcher had come to power in
May of that year, while Lord
Mountbatten was assassinated by the
IRA in August. Music was dominated by Punk Rock. There were only three TV channels:
BBC1, BBC2 and ITV, satellite TV was still many years in the future. If you wanted to make a
telephone call away from home you had to find a red phone box – that was the only kind of
“mobile phone” available! As for computers: well, we saw them in Star Trek and never dreamed
of the internet or email. I had just bought my first car for the huge sum of £250, and could fill
the tank with petrol for £5.
Summers were hotter, Winters were colder, crisps (chips) were 3 pence a bag and the Tories had made sure that all of our dads were unemployed. Ahh! the good old days.
I arrived at ********** Comprehensive School, as it was then called, early in September 1979. I
was very young, very excited: and very scared!
I was already a 2nd year veteran of the school at this time.
A number of things stick in my mind from those early years of teaching. First, the school was
much smaller in those days. What is now the English area was known as Lower School (Years 7
& 8), ruled over by the redoubtable Mr Edwin Turton, who terrified pupils and staff alike.
She’s not kidding, that guy was a monster. He had a northern accent so strong that it was impossible to interpret half the things that he was shouting at you (he was incapable of talking at a normal volume) and every second sentence he said included the word detention.
Over the next few years I was a form tutor in Middle School and worked closely with the very
eccentric Mr Caddick. Although he actually taught Basic Studies and Rural Studies, Arthur’s
real love was writing and directing elaborate school productions, and the end of term usually
involved gathering all of Years 9 and 10 in the dining hall in order to watch highlights of his
I remember helping to build stage sets for this guy, he was a walking whirl wind, impossible to keep up with.
The beginning of term, however, was another matter. I will never forget an
assembly for the start of the new January Term. “I’m not going to wish you a Happy New Year,”
Mr Caddick announced, “because you’re not here to enjoy yourselves.” Assemblies in those days
still involved hymn-singing, and as the increasingly reluctant pupils groaned their way through
another verse he would encourage them with shouts of “Sing, damn you, sing!”
Yep that was him 🙂
A glance at a pupil timetable would show number of different subjects from those studied in
2008. When I had been teaching for a few years there was great excitement at the arrival of the
school’s first computer, a huge thing which printed out ticker-tape and was wheeled around the
building on its own trolley.
And the “Pocket” calculators that we were allowed to use in Physics lessons were bigger and thicker than house bricks.
Videos, meanwhile, were played on an open reel-to-reel machine and
were a rare event. The RS (Religious Studies, though I remember it as RE – Religious Education, at that time)
department had only one video, a modern version of the story of
Jesus’ birth set in a bus-shelter, which every class watched at Christmas whether they wanted to
I hated that film, I blame it for my Atheism.
Latin and Classical Studies were still part of the curriculum, taught by the legendary Mr
Mike Horswell and by the Headmaster, Mr Dalton, who was often to be seen in the black
academic gown which he always wore when teaching or leading assemblies.
Even in the 80s he wore that gown, right up till the day he retired.
Pupils who behaved badly in lessons could be sent to the Headmaster for punishment. Boys were
beaten with a leather strap known as the tawse; while the Senior Mistress, Miss Smallwood,
punished girls with the slipper. ******* was one of the last Education Authorities in England to
use corporal punishment: rumour had it that this was because of the belief that using the tawse
supported the local leather industry!
Unlike in Scotland, boys were tawsed on the bottom rather than the hands. Two girls, who had received CP, both told me that they were offered the option of a slippered bottom or the tawse but on the hands rather than the backside, as the lads had it. All punishments to the bottoms of offenders happened over clothes (no bare bums, sorry). The Tawses used in our school were different to the Scottish ones in being wider and having three tails. They were not dissimilar to the one in the photograph below, except they were black.
In the early 1980s the school started to expand and pupil numbers soon increased to 1,500.
However, in those Thatcherite times there was very little money for education and building new
classrooms was out of the question: instead an ever-growing series of mobile classrooms arrived
over the next few years until a grand total of eleven “T-huts” (T stood for “temporary”)
surrounded the school. They didn’t seem to be very temporary, as the RS department was housed
in T7 and T8, at the back of the Sports Hall, for 15 years. They were bitterly cold in winter,
baking hot in summer, always damp, and infested at various times with silver fish, wasps and
ants: I always told my classes that it was good to have pets. However, our isolated location
meant that, in warm weather, we could move tables and chairs outside and study by the pond; the
downside was having to run into T8 dodging snowballs during the severe winters of the early
Mr Dalton regarded snowballing as good, healthy, youthful, fun and even teachers could be targeted without reproof and a lot would throw snowballs back. Mr Turton tended to stay indoors on snowy days.
Those T huts were hell.
Trips and visits have always played an important part in education, and over the years I have
taken part in visits to places as varied as Cologne and Bonn and Tewkesbury Abbey.
Cologne! Bonn! They never let me go on either of those 😦
The most enjoyable visits, however, have tended to be more spontaneous. In the golden days
before health and safety risk assessments it was possible to simply book the school mini-bus and
head for a day out at the weekend or in a school holiday, taking a small group of pupils into the
Shropshire countryside, to Rhyl or Blackpool, even to a theme park.
The Sixth form Arthurian society trips were legendary. Visiting many pubs near famous Arthurian sites. It just wouldn’t be allowed now (Shame!)
The first one to throw up in the mini bus got to clean it though.
********** School has certainly played a big part in my own lifelong learning: I have made some
very good friends both among staff and pupils, many of whom remain in contact. I met my
partner here back in the mists of time. Pupils are not the only ones who learn new skills from
their school experiences: the young and nervous girl who arrived 29 years ago is now leaving
with the confidence to take on a new adventure. In September I will be teaching 11-13 year-olds
in the International School of ******, but I will continue to follow the progress of **********
School Sports College as, like me, it continues to look for new opportunities and take on new
Well that was looking at it through rose coloured glasses (but it may have improved after I left). I remember it as an underfunded, violent, hell hole, where Council housed criminals of the future could hone their talents and we lost large numbers of the girls to teenage pregnancy by the time we reached the fifth form. Frankly I think that this woman deserves a medal for lasting 29 years there. And also our thanks for turning a blind eye as we did our maths homework during RE (Maths with Mr Turton being the next lesson).
I enjoyed that trip down memory lane 🙂 Hope all you readers did too.